K-12 Education

Boston Public Schools Considers Plan to Eliminate Middle Schools

The district's preferred policy proposal is to move the middle grades to elementary and high schools.


Tommy Chang in front of the skyline

Photograph by Ken Richardson for “Power Lunch: Tommy Chang

The awkward, dramatic, braces-filled days of middle school could be history for Boston Public School students.

There are six remaining middle schools in the district, but BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang hopes to cut that number to zero, according to the Boston Globe. The plan is not—despite what tweens might hope—to give kids a three-year vacation between elementary school and high school. Rather, Chang’s proposal aims to reduce the variety of schools across the district and migrate the middle grades to either elementary or high schools.

In addition to the simplicity of consolidation, Chang’s vision rests on the idea that students should go through fewer transition periods during their school careers, the Globe reports. In 2011, researchers at Harvard found students experienced academic setbacks when they finished fifth grade and entered middle school. Measures of math and language arts achievement sharply declined following the transition, and the negative effects lingered for years in some cases. And in 2016, a study from Syracuse University indicated students benefit from longer grade spans both academically and socially.

Under Chang’s proposal, the restructured district would comprise lower schools stretching to sixth or eighth grade, and upper schools starting in seventh or ninth grade, according to the Globe. In the fall of 2016, Chang presented a more extreme version of the plan that included just two grade spans—K-6 and 7-12—but it was ultimately tabled following an uproar.

This new proposal is also sure to ruffle feathers, particularly as tensions within the community remain high following the failed plan to reshuffle school start times. The bell schedule changes incensed thousands of parents whose elementary-age children were suddenly slated to start much earlier in the morning so high schoolers could get the medically recommended amount of sleep. It’s hard to imagine grade reconfiguration—and school closures—won’t become volatile, too.